A woman found dead in a burning car last month is among the latest victims of violence plaguing Willow Cliff Apartments.
As detectives work to solve the homicide, violence continues to trouble residents. Squad cars ripped into the complex, at 5304 Willow Cliff Road, to break up a fight Thursday evening, and police briefly detained at least one youth to assuage the tension.
Police Chief Bill Citty said homicides were down in Oklahoma City in the first quarter of 2013 compared to 2012, but violent assaults have not abated. In fact, they are on the upswing long-term.
Residents at Willow Cliff agree. The yawning apartment complex in northwest Oklahoma City is flanked by large ponds that draw wildlife including geese, ducks and cranes. Residents love to fish there; their catches include bass and crappie. Music from nearby Putnam City High School's band floats over the complex some evenings. Children play soccer at nearby Dolese Youth Park.
“It's a lovable area,” resident Bennie Houston III said.
Houston, an Army veteran who works in manufacturing, lives at Willow Cliff to stay near his mother, who refuses to leave. She and other longtime residents love the area and call it home, Houston said.
Violence in recent years has caused some neighbors to either leave or to move from the back of the complex to the front, where they feel safer.
Fights are a common scene, residents said.
“A lot of the things we took for granted — the peace, the quiet in the evening,” Houston said. “It's gone. It's gone now.”
Oklahoma City police tackled 19 homicides in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 28 in the same period last year, a decrease of almost one-third. In 2012, the city had 99 homicides, the third most for one year in its history.
Police found Laquisha Danielle Towers, 27, dead in a burning car March 2 at Willow Cliff Apartments. Hers is one of five 2013 first-quarter homicides that remains unsolved.
“There's a correlation between aggravated assaults and homicides,” Citty said. “Homicides are an assault of the worst outcome.”
Over the past 10 to 15 years, aggravated assaults have been on the upswing, Citty said.
To address the violence, police are using overtime programs to deploy more patrols in areas where data shows violent assaults are on the rise, the chief said.
“People in those areas are going to see more officers,” he said. “They're going to see more enforcement occurring in those areas.”
Houston said he has seen more patrol cars in the Willow Cliff area.
Thursday's fight drew residents out of their homes. They looked at the scene, shaking heads. Houston and his mother were among them.
“It is disturbing. There are residents who have been here for 10, 15 years, and they love it here,” he said.
New technology is helping the police force prevent and solve crimes, Citty said.
In the past four months, some squad cars have been outfitted with license plate readers that automatically pick up numbers and run them through the National Crime Information Center. Criminals who steal cars typically commit other crimes, such as robbery, which can turn violent quickly, Citty said.
Criminals often make a digital record of their crimes on cellphones and on social networks. Those records help detectives secure a conviction in crimes such as homicide.
“People talk,” Citty said. “People who commit crimes talk.”
At Willow Cliff, residents hope the violence will stop.
Houston said young people without parental guidance, who lack core values and basic respect, get wrapped up in violence.
“These are children without adult supervision so to speak of,” he said, “or there are core values that have seemed to be lost somewhere along the way. That's noticeable by the language that they speak and even the tone that they use while they're speaking their language. It's a lack of respect.”
He said residents need to “stick together, stand up for one another.”
A lot of the things we took for granted — the peace, the quiet in the evening. It's gone. It's gone now.”
Bennie Houston III,
Resident of Willow Cliff Apartments